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David Kilgour Talk to Liberian Association of Ottawa
Jack Purcell Community Centre
28 Nov 2010

There is no time to discuss recent events in Liberia, but permit me to congratulate Liberians on electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president. Not only is she the first female head of state on the continent, but from all indications she is one of the best. If anyone can improve the living standards of Liberians generally, it is her as a Harvard-trained economist and former minister of Finance.


Statistics Canada projects that by 2031 almost half of our population over the age of 15 will be foreign-born or have at least one foreign-born parent. The non-European-origin community will double and make up the majority of the population in our larger cities.

In this context, permit me to quote some points made by Haiyan Zhang, a Canadian citizen of birth in China, at the National Student Commonwealth Forum in Ottawa in May, 2009 (Her entire talk is available under Governance at She is a certified management consultant and dedicated volunteer in Ottawa. I share her concerns fully:

“For many, particularly those from ‘untraditional’, i.e., non-European countries, i.e., visible minorities, harsh realities soon hit home when we find that our educational backgrounds are discounted, our professional experience ignored and our loyalties questioned. Doubts start to rise when we realize that we live in a country with most highly educated taxi drivers and pizza delivery men on the planet! “

Among the realities that later caused her to reflect:

  1. The 2006 national census shows that there are nearly 5.1 million non-European-origin-immigrants (n-E-o) in Canada, which represents 16% of our population.
  2. In eight years, it is projected that n-E-o communities will account for close to 21% of Canada's population with over 7.1 million residents. In some cities, this is already true. In Ottawa, for example, immigrants represent about 22% of the population and accounted for 80% of the population growth between 2001 and 2006, three quarters of whom are n-E-o.

She examined some education data and concluded that one in two of n-E-o newcomers aged between 25-34 have university degrees compared to one in four other Canadians of the same age. One in 3 n-E-o between 35-64 have university degrees, compared to one in five among other Canadians. In most cases, she notes, “their international educational background or professional designations are not recognized. As a result, immigrants are getting poorer. While the overall poverty level for other Canadians decreased in the last two decades, poverty among immigrants, particularly n-E-o persons, went up. Today, they are two to three times more likely to be unemployed or underemployed and four times more likely to live in poverty than other Canadians.”


Zhang: “…In Ottawa, recent findings indicate that the median individual income for recent immigrants was under $15,000 compared to over $26,000 for Aboriginals and those with disability. The median income overall is nearly $33,000 overall, that’s more than double the income of recent immigrants!...How does Canada live up to its reputation as a vibrant multicultural society if up to 20% of our population lives, on long term basis, smaller than their potential? Many immigrants intentionally delete their more professional backgrounds for fear that they would lose their current positions in fields that require much lower skills and pay barely enough to cover daily necessities?”

“(Immigrants) bring with us the values of the countries we left behind, very often very old countries with very old traditions and rituals which may appear quite different from those of Canada as a young nation... Our new identity inevitably embodies elements of our old identity, making us feeling guilty for not being unequivocally Canadian.”

“However the fundamentals do not change. As human beings, we all aspire for respect, recognition, equal access to employment opportunities and human dignity. As human beings we are all eager to make a difference and leave this world a better place.”

I found her speech gripping, as did I’m told the students in the audience from across Canada. Here is more: “In March 1990, I interviewed Nelson Mandela and asked him what had kept him going in 27 years of imprisonment. His answer, ‘it was the courage to believe and passion to persevere.’ I am deeply inspired by Mandela… I encourage you to become aware of immigrants’ situations, reach out and hear stories of immigrants’ journey, get involved in helping immigrants and demand action from those in positions of power to make systemic change. “

Who can disagree with Haiyan Zhang? In Ottawa, the situation is further complicated by the fact that the government of Canada is the major employer and demands both security clearance and often good ability in both official languages for new employees. There is also the unreasonable amount of time often required to jump through all the other employment hoops to get into even entry level public service positions.

In short, Canadians and our governments at every level must do a lot better by newcomers than they have done under governments of differing political stripes for years now. We have major advantages for attracting skilled men and women around the world wishing to emigrate, but we must remove many obstacles quickly.

Canada Internationally

Canada’s good international reputation has evoked concepts of a champion of dignity for all, human equality and sustainable world peace. Our willingness to spend Canadian resources, most notably precious lives in theatres of conflict such as Afghanistan, as referenced in our Remembrance Day poem “In Flanders Fields”, increased our self-concept as a model for what is possible when one nation reaches out to help humankind without fear or favour.

A list of other values long associated with Canada would include rules-based multilateralism over unilateralism; human security; the rule of law and well-functioning and independent courts; support for the UN and its agencies; achieving the U.N. Millennium Goals by 2015; multi-party democracy; reconciliation, non-violence and compromise in both intra-state and inter-state conflicts.

Regrettably, our reputation has suffered over the past 15 years as we grapple with the implications of changing global realities. A widening gap presently exists between how Canadians view our place in the world and the roles we actually play.

International institutions in which Canada has long played key roles, such as the Commonwealth and La Francophonie, are becoming less significant as new players move near the centre of the global stage. Canada’s influence with the United States has fallen for various reasons. One well-known example of our failure to adapt effectively to changed realities is our recent failure to win a 2-year seat on the UN Security Council.

Making Choices

The interim report on the External Voices Project, undertaken several years ago by the then Canadian Institute of International Affairs, cited three essentials missing from our contemporary foreign policy approach: a willingness to make clear choices; a consistency in those choices and relationships over time; and a determination to build world-class assets in the spheres in which we choose to lead.

One reality shrieking for attention today is climate change. As Jeffery Sachs points out, approximately 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are being emitted around the world yearly now, with about 81% coming from fossil fuels and 19% from deforestation. Canadians and many others worry greatly about the global warming caused by greenhouse gases. Carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have increased enormously since 1960. Can anyone doubt that this is the principal reason why 11 of the 12 hottest years worldwide on record occurred between 1995 and 2005? Moreover, is the exponential rise in CO2 not increasing ocean levels, habitat destruction, disease transmission, and causing significant changes in agricultural productivity and water availability?

Canada could take the lead at home and abroad on climate change, with a range of initiatives on Deforestation, Electricity (32%), Automobiles (18%), Industry (22%). The book Green Oil by Satya Das of Edmonton deals with the opportunities and challenges of Alberta`s oil sands as the largest hydrocarbon deposit on earth, contending persuasively that an intelligent use of the deposit and the vast revenues it generates can give the province a leading role in moving to a clean energy future both at home and abroad. Let me stress only one of the points he makes:

The daily world consumption of oil today is 85 million barrels. Alberta’s largest customer for oil, the U.S., imports 12 million barrels daily, or, as President Obama has put it, Americans are borrowing money from China to buy oil from Saudi Arabia. Are they not also borrowing from China to pay for oil bought from Canada? How much longer can this lunacy continue? Das wants the tyranny of oil to end and thinks that prudent stewardship of the oil sands would allow Canadians to develop a clean energy economy and technologies, which could be shared profitably with the world.

Making a Difference

Canada has made a difference in areas in which it has committed herself fully. Our courageous stance on the tragedy of landmines was fundamental to the drafting of the Landmines Treaty by the United Nations. We also forged new norms for the international human security agenda with the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which provides that regimes who abuse the dignity of their own people can no longer hide behind their sovereignty. The problem remains that without a U.N. Security Council resolution, which in too many cases has proved impossible to obtain because of the votes of self-interested-only permanent members of the Security Council, it is still essentially an empty remedy in international relations.

During the 90’s, Canada was probably indispensable in the world-wide effort to bring Apartheid to an end in South Africa. Canadian used our influence with the G7, the Commonwealth, and La Francophonie, connected with international leaders, and engaged the African National Congress and the South African government with governance and development support and assistance during the transition to an authentic democracy. Today South Africans and others across the continent say our values are needed more than ever and we should be present on the continent more than ever--not effectively abandoning some of its peoples.


One of our greatest strengths, which many Canadians seem to underestimate, is that Canada is loved by many and disliked by relatively few. The goodwill which many peoples hold towards us is a vital asset that we must nurture and make the most of. Canada is seen by the rest of the world as approachable; if we devote the time and resources necessary, we can live up to our reputation as a credible multilateralist that is both willing and able to help when needed.

It is the idealism of a country that paves the way for its greatness. One area in which Canada can offer much, can make a real difference in the world, is as a healer. We could dedicate ourselves to improving the lives of millions of people condemned to a life of disease, poverty and misery in the most difficult parts of the world by way of better health care (malaria eradication, clean water, reproductive health, etc.) and improved education.

The focus of Canada as a healer would capture the hearts of a new generation, such as the Free the Children ‘We Day’ change makers ( who want something better from their country and the world than business as usual.

So many lives have been lost and so much treasure has been spent on wars. If some of that money had gone into Africa, Latin America and elsewhere to improve the lives of the people there, Canada would have made a lasting and enduring contribution to humankind.

Canada has the ability to be that country which hears the cry of a hungry child somewhere in the world and responds to it. It can sense the hopelessness in a young man with no future and bring hope and a better future. It is able to be attentive to the desperate plea of a young woman in a desolate place and fight for her rights. That is the essential goodness of Canada that has yet to find full expression in its foreign policy and would truly set it apart from the rest of the nations.

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